Francisco CoronadoFrancisco Vasquez Coronado traveled from Spain to Mexico in 1535 and was one of the first Europeans to visit the area that has become Arizona when his expedition in 1540 crossed the Huachuca Mountains south of what is now Sierra Vista, Arizona.
Fray Marcos de Niza in 1539 first explored the area north of Sonora, Mexico, then returned and claimed he had seen the Seven Cities of Cibola, a city of gold and silver. His report led Coronado to make his famous expedition to the Zuni Pueblo the following year with de Niza as his guide. The expedition failed to find gold and riches and de Niza returned to Mexico in shame. Coronado went on to explore what is now the American southwest and achieve fame and wealth.
I visited the Coronado National Memorial which honors the explorer. It offers stunning views of the mountains and river valleys that Coronado crossed centuries ago, and which undocumented immigrants still cross today.
The ride from Sierra Vista to the park visitor's center is on paved roads, but the three mile climb to the top of Montezuma Pass is along an unpaved road that winds up a mountainside to the peak. At the summit, I could see for miles north to Tombstone and south to Mexico. At the peak a border patrol agent was parked in a truck-mounted camera tower equipped with infrared and radar technology. This type of technology being implemented along the Arizona border to replace SBInet, the so-called "virtual border fence" project begun in 2005. SBInet experienced severe delays and could never be fully implemented, despite costing over $1 billion through 2011, until the project was cancelled by Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano.
A new surveillance plan, called the "Alternative (Southwest) Border Technology", will include a mix of camera towers, truck-mounted mobile surveillance systems, night-vision goggles, ground sensors, handheld equipment for use by Border Patrol agents and towers similar to those put up in the SBInet virtual fence system. Planes, helicopters and unmanned aerial systems will also be incorporated.
Francisco Coronado had to overcome the Huachuca Mountains to reach Arizona. The barriers have grown since the sixteenth century.